Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The bestsellers of yesterday

vintage-summer-reads-&&<span class=

When I was college age I read everything including best sellers. The Daily Beast ran a piece today about some of the Beach Reads of the Sixties.

As for the ones shown above at the time I was a big Harold Robbins fan. The Carpetbaggers and A Stone For Danny Fisher being my favorites among his novels. I've reread both these books in the years since and they hold up (for me) very well. He was a story teller in the grand tradition but when he got into writing sex books I gave up on him. Places like Midwood and Nightstand were publishing far more interesting and entertaining books with far more realistic stories and characters. I'm serious. Ditto "sex shock" novels like The Chapman Report. Not as much fun as the Midwoods.

Rona Jaffe was an excellent storyteller and a talented observer of life in New York City. I know a number of female novelists who credit The Best Of Everything as being an important novel in the creation of feminist literature. I read many of her books over the years. She was very good.

I always preferred Irving Wallace to Sidney Sheldon. Wallace was the better novelist, storyteller and observer. Sheldon's stuff was so over the top it got boring after about thirty pages.

Jacqueline Susann was one of the nastiest people I ever saw on TV so I had no interest in reading her books, the godmother to Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin sans politics. Her perpetual self-promotion was her least irritating trait if that tells you anything. She insisted she wrote her books herself which I never believed.

Nothing Arthur Hailey wrote ever interested me.

One name missing here is Herman Wouk. My high school friend Steve Schwartz recommended Marjorie Morningstar as a way to learn about certain kinds of Jewish life. I was dating a Jewish girl at the time as well. Her mother kept raving about it. Hell of a good solid serious fascinating novel. I liked Youngblood Hawk and a few others by Wouk too. He was in the tradition of popular novelists who really had something to say about how we lived such as Jerome Weidman. I wish we had novelists like those today.

For me Peyton Place remains my favorite best seller of all-time. It came damned close to being real literature far more than the sudsy Gone With The Wind. I reread it every few years and it never lets me down. I just wish poor Grace Metalious' had played out more happily. Another name that should appear here is Maritta Wolff. Her Whistle Stop is well in league with Peyton Place. Popular but serious and lasting fiction.


mybillcrider said...

You and I are products of the same era, Ed. I read A STONE FOR DANNY FISHER when the Elvis movie came out (KING CREOLE) and read several Robbins books after that. THE CARPETBAGGERS is my favorite, and I've read it a couple of times. Read a lot of Irving Wallace, and read both the books you mention by Wouk. Never got to Hailey and read only one by Sheldon. PEYTON PLACE is an all-time favorite. So is HARRISON HIGH, which you didn't mention.

D.A. Trappert said...

Just wanted to note that Herman Wouk is still alive, 97, and publishing a new novel.


Mathew Paust said...

Peyton Place was so scandalous in our community I had to read it on the sly. I was a naive 14, so I missed a lot. Probly thrilled more by the forbidden fruit aspect.

Either I was already reading Wolfe when I chose Youngblood Hawk as a Book-of-the-Month Club pick or that's the book that turned me onto Wolfe. Either way, the book was fascinating and went a long way toward firing my ambition to write.

argott said...

In the next couple of months I plan on reading two early 1980s books penned by Michael McDowell with Dennis Schuetz (under the name Axel Young -- BLOOD RUBIES and WICKED STEPMOTHER). Both books are said to parody the over-the-top style of writers like Sidney Sheldon.

I got a copy of Sheldon's first title, THE NAKED ONE, made it about 40 pages, and could go no further. It had so many silly parts without a plot or characters that inspired my interest. I love other popular fiction of the era, though.